November 10, 2021

Blue-Skinned Gods

By SJ Sindu
Review by
Kalki isn’t actually the 10th human incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, but few people know that.
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In the town of Tamil Nadu, India, Kalki isn’t the 10th human incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, but few people know that. After all, his skin is blue, just like Vishnu, and his family has built an entire ashram around him. People come from all over to be healed, and Kalki often succeeds.

Growing up in the role of a god comes with unique responsibilities. Kalki isn’t supposed to play with the other kids in his village, and his cousin Lakshman is his only friend. When a very sick little girl comes to the ashram, Kalki heals her, but he also notices his father giving her a white tablet to swallow. Then Kalki is asked to conjure horses, and again he succeeds—but also notices unfamiliar tire indentations leading up to the ashram. The most troublesome piece of evidence against his divinity is that there are some people Kalki can’t heal.

The fabric around the ruse begins to disintegrate, but it takes a long time. Kalki lives an incredibly sheltered existence. Occasional travelers who visit the ashram provide his only link to the outside world, and these interactions are years apart. His father is controlling and leaves very little room for new ideas.

When Kalki is 22, he leaves Tamil Nadu for a world tour with his father. In New York, he reconnects with Lakshman and goes on a real-world adventure, during which he begins to understand the scope of what people will choose to believe. He plunges into the city’s underground rock music scene, which is as different as possible from life in the ashram. Kalki also learns his own backstory, an origin tale that is so fantastical and yet so plausible that it deserves a moment of appreciation.

As Kalki is forced to reckon with the lies that form the foundation of his life, SJ Sindu’s second novel, Blue-Skinned Gods, pursues questions of sexuality, social hierarchy, family secrets, toxic masculinity and religious abuse. Sindu doesn’t quite nail the emotional payoff at the novel’s close, but she still delivers an exciting journey that lovingly explores the nature of chosen families.

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